All Youth Podium a Good Sign for Pickleball’s Future

All Youth Podium a Good Sign for Pickleball’s Future

Championship Sunday at the Guaranteed Rate PPA Championships in Las Vegas boasted storylines like a first-time medalist and a riveting doubles comeback. For Anton Santos, however, the day marked an important anniversary. 

Exactly one year earlier, the 14-year-old had been introduced to pickleball by his aunt asking if anyone wanted to watch it with her. 

Three days before that anniversary, Santos stood atop the podium with a gold medal around his neck for a triumphant performance in the men’s 3.0 singles division.  

To his right, claiming silver, was nine-year-old Jack Loughridge; to his left, 13-year-old Daniel Ybarra Jr. with bronze. 

This ‘all kids’ podium is a first on the PPA Tour, and it signifies a larger trend in the sport: the rise of youth pickleball. 

Jack’s mother, Courtney, has been around pickleball since Jack started playing two years ago. She recalls the experience from when Jack was just starting out. 

“At the beginning, we were a really small group with just a couple of kids,” she said. “And now, it’s fun where there’s usually a little gang of them running around.”

There are many reasons for the sport’s rise in popularity among youth, and Santos was initially intrigued by the unique name. 

Over time, though, he’s come to enjoy the blend of competitive play and social interaction that pickleball offers.

“The one thing that I really like is that you can play with family and friends,” he said. “You can host mini-tournaments and get a little more competitive, but you can still have fun with it.”

Since these young studs are, well, young, their success has exciting implications for the future of pickleball worldwide.

“The fact that there are more younger players really bodes well for the sport, and more and more players are choosing pickleball as their primary sport versus something that is just like a fun family activity,” Loughridge said.

That change in classification is one of the next steps in the sport’s development at the youth level.

Daniel Jr.’s father, Danny, notices similarities in how he followed sports as a child and how Daniel now engages with pickleball.

“For him, it’s more like I would have been with baseball and football growing up,” he said. “He follows all the pro players, all the newest paddles and technology coming out, and all the newest rules.”

As the sport’s popularity continues to rise with younger and younger age groups, it’s likely that this first ‘all kids’ podium most likely won’t be the last.

It’s really just a matter of time.